The OX-5 era

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

After the end of World War I, surplus warplanes were dumped on the market at a fraction of their original cost, leaving manufacturers with little demand for new aircraft. Without a doubt this availability of cheap aircraft hindered the development of new aircraft in the U.S., as surplus aircraft, many still in shipping crates, were sold for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

In fact, the post-war market looked so good that Curtiss bought back more than 1,600 JN-4 Jennies and 4,608 OX-5 engines. The vast popularity of the war-surplus Jenny led to its being the second most registered aircraft design in the United States before 1940.

However, the corollary to the story is that the stocks of war surplus Curtiss OX-5 engines powered the growth in general aviation for a decade. [Read more...]

On the threshold of powered flight

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

During the closing years of the 19th century, there were important events that brought the development of aircraft to the edge of powered flight. It was a period of great expectations, full of such developments as the gasoline engine, the automobile, electric lights and the telephone. The experiments of this time in aeronautics by the likes of Lilienthal, Chanute, Maxim, and Langley were important in providing inspiration and laying the technical foundations that the Wright brothers and others would follow.

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A new age of business travel

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

The period after the end of World War II saw a rapid growth in the use of corporate-owned aircraft for executive transportation. That need was fed mainly by conversions of small transports and high-speed wartime medium bombers, but in the early 1950s serious thought was given to the design and production of the “ideal” executive aircraft. [Read more...]

A novel approach

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Starting in 1908 and 1909, aviation began to have an impact on the public conscience and imagination, evidenced by its appearance in popular culture of the day, including music, books and films.

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An aerial adventure

A decade after the Army’s pioneering flight to Alaska, two adventurous young men embarked on a month-long, 12,000-mile journey to Alaska in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth named “Flit,” a small two-seat biplane with open cockpits and a 90-hp, four-cylinder engine. The pilots were on their summer vacation and wanted to see if they could fly out to Alaska, get in some bear hunting and return. [Read more...]

Commercial aviation tries its wings

The development of commercial air operations in the United States after the armistice that ended the First World War was a period of optimism founded on widespread public curiosity, thousands of newly trained pilots, and easy availability of surplus aircraft. Financing was provided based on the assumption that public interest would force the development of air transport without the development of new aircraft and without a national air policy. The initial growth period peaked in 1920, then diminished because of waning curiosity, use of obsolete war surplus equipment, lack of airways and airfields, as well as a lack of good business models.

Due to the lack of any federal system of registration, it is difficult to measure commercial operations in this period, but the Manufacturers Aircraft Association (MAA) made an annual attempt. It reported the number of FBOs went from a high of about 160 in 1920 to a reported 60 in 1924. The commercial fleet went from an estimated 1,000 aircraft in 1920 to a reported 217 in 1924.

Demand for the war surplus Jenny was so great that Curtiss bought back thousands of them from the government, refurbished and resold them.

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Flying on tandem wings

Among early design considerations were the layout, location and configuration of wings. Several early concepts included that of the tandem wing, including Langley’s first successful powered aircraft in 1896 (pictured, below). A tandem wing aircraft implies use of two full-sized wings mounted on each end of the fuselage. It might be considered a biplane with a great amount of “stagger” between the wings. The practical effect is to increase the stability of an aircraft. Early experimenters found that using a single or biplane wing configuration was unstable. Some tried to overcome this problem using two horizontally separated wings.

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The Flying Fortress: Celebrating 75 years


This summer marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most famous aircraft of World War II: The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

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The parasol era


In a period in American aviation history when the biplane configuration was dominate, there was a slight aberration when the parasol became popular.

From the start of the Depression until the mid-1930s, there was a strong spurt of interest that saw about 30 parasol designs certificated for production. With their wings placed above the fuselage, these planes were certainly distinctive compared to the popular biplanes of the time.

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The Douglas incubator

Shown in a 1921 advertisement, the Douglas “Cloudster” was the first plane to be built under the Douglas name. It was sold to Ryan Airlines and converted to a passenger plane used on the San Diego-Los Angeles route.

Shown in a 1921 advertisement, the Douglas “Cloudster” was the first plane to be built under the Douglas name.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the stream of government money dried up and the manufacturing of aircraft declined drastically. In this period, when the market for new aircraft was almost nonexistent, it hardly seemed time for a new enterprise to start manufacturing aircraft. But there were those with the desire to design and build airplanes.

One such person to form a new company during this period was Donald Douglas. The establishment of Douglas Co. (later Douglas Aircraft Co.) in southern California was historically important, as it had a long-term impact on the industry.

Also important was the company’s role in producing future leaders of the aircraft industry. They were designers who would achieve fame while with Douglas or form their own companies after working with Douglas.

The first Douglas aircraft was the “Cloudster,” designed as a long-range plane for a trans-continental non-stop flight. It was the first aircraft to carry a load greater than its empty weight. The Cloudster became the basis for Douglas’s first Navy contract, the DT-1 Torpedo Bomber. That order was what really got Douglas established in the aircraft manufacturing business, as 90 of the DT series would be built.

When the Army was looking for a design to fly around the world in 1923, the DT series was chosen as the basis for what became the DWC — Douglas World Cruiser.

Among the famous designers working for Douglas at that time were Jack Northrop, later of flying wing fame, and Donald Hall, later the designer of Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”

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